Although Emile Berliner never reached the exalted status of Thomas Edison in the public imagination, his contributions to the development of the talking machine were equally significant. A German immigrant, Berliner had invented an important carbon button microphone for the telephone, and around 1887 had begun experimenting with lateral cut disc records, which he learned to stamp out of hard rubber from acid-etched zinc masters. Berliner's needle-in-the-groove patent of 1887 would become a cornerstone of the Victor Talking Machine Company.
By 1893 Berliner felt ready to exploit his patent, and incorporated the US Gramophone Company. The only model offered was a hand powered Gramophone selling for $12. With no motor, but just two pulleys connected by a string, the speed of the record -- a recommended 70rpm -- was dependent on the dexterity of the operator.
There had been nagging problems developing a reliable spring motor for the cylinder phonograph during the mid 1890s, and the technical demands of propelling a disc phonograph were more complex than for a cylinder machine. Berliner tested several prototypes of clockwork motors, and approached Eldridge Johnson, the owner of a machine shop in Camden, to construct a motor designed by a Philadelphia resident. This motor proved to be unworkable, but, unknown to Berliner, Johnson --smitten with a bad case of "gramophonitis"-- continued working, and by 1896 had come up with a practical design.
This machine became the Improved Gramophone of 1897. It is the iconic trademark Gramophone, the machine later depicted in Francis Barraud's famous painting of Nipper the dog listening to His Master's voice.
In 1895 Berliner had re-incorporated in Philadelphia as the Berliner Gramophone Company. No businessman, he needed an entrepreneur to sell his Gramophones and he found one in an energetic New York advertising man named Frank Seaman, with whom he signed a 15 year contract in 1896. Seaman aggressively advertised the Gramophone in popular publications. The gramophone company became a tri-partite organization, with Seaman in charge of the merchandising, Johnson the manufacturing, and Berliner holding the patents. In a short time, however, as orders exceeded Johnson's manufacturing capacity, this arrangement proved to be something other than a happy family. Seaman felt he was getting a raw deal, dropped the Gramophone, and responded with a Gramophone imitation of his own: the Zonophone.
A partial list of Berliner models (non-electric)
In 1900 Emile Berliner established a factory and record manufacture facilities in Montreal . There was a complete series of machines, including a Canadian version of the Trademark model. These Canadian machines were sold as Berliner Gramophones rather than Victors, but they have more in common with later Victor models. Photographs of these models are available from the Canadian Antique Phonograph Society.
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